‘Payin a price twice as expensive as white kids’ — Big Punisher
Mexican, wet back, spic, those Bridgeport kids, that Puerto Rican, thugs, trouble makers, those niggers. Mothafucka, I even heard sand nigger. You know, I’m sure there was mad other shit they called us behind our backs. I’m perfectly fine with saying that my time in this better school district was terrible.
In a public school system that was predominantly populated with rich white kids, us Bridgeport kids were perpetually ontologically insecure. This insecurity skewed my perception of liberation — which was an assimilation into white cultural hegemony. The Beatles (check), Linkin Park (check), System of a Down (check), play guitar (check), be in a fuckin’ band (check), degrade myself doing Jackass-like stunts (check). All that shit was part of my fractured multiplicitous identity. My childish conception of liberation was misguided. Liberation is not assimilation, liberation is the freedom to choose, create, or destroy our identities.
The music that I adore, the people who I become intimate with, and the clothes I wear in my adult life all have ties to my origins; the poor urban environment I grew up in. It is now that I know that a real sense of liberation from the cultural oppression of my high school was the sense of home I felt chillin with my Bridgeport niggas on the school bus, it was seeing the smiles on their faces during lunch while we hanged each other over stupid shit. Liberation was when we found creative ways to steal food at lunch. Shit, I still laugh when I think about how many of those big-ass Arizona Ice Teas and Snapples we packed into my homeboy’s bookbag (of course there were no books inside— we found no use for them anyway). Liberation was felt when we strayed away from our duties as exploited non-paid school store workers and ate all it’s candy (Yes, Boston Baked Beans are that good).
Liberation was felt when we cathartically yolked this white football jock up against the lockers. In the words of Kendrick Lamar — rush a nigga quick and laugh about later. The perfect jock with the perfect name and the strong jaw probably thought he was going to cruise through high school — like J.Cole said “I hate rich niggaz”. We did what had to be done and that shit right there was liberation.
Violence By Other Means
We were always blamed for the rampant drugs in that school. Rich white kids coked out or flying high on weed was somehow the fault of low-income kids from the urban periphery. They really thought we had a Colombian cartel plug or that one of us was a Bridgeport reincarnation of Pablo Escobar.
This was way more complex than a simple Bridgeport stereotype (or a general stereotype regarding poor urban communities). This had more to do with an intricate set of historical bourgeois knowledge regarding race and class.
That set of knowledge feeds discourse which in turn feeds the construction of an out-group, discriminatory attitudes, silencing, and an increase of the burden of proof. As Michel Foucault said “Power and knowledge directly imply one another”. Epistemic violence, or violence through knowledge, is a violence against those deemed Other by those in power. Epistemological violence was part of our daily existence; it often manifested in mundane ways.
My homeboy, in his freshman year played on the high school basketball team. Partitioning the team in two, an intense scrimmage lead to one of his teammates calling him “nigger” (homie really came through with the hard ‘R’). Of course, mothafuckas had to throw some hands, my nigga wouldn’t be my nigga if he didn’t do so. The two were sent to the dean (a vile biological manifestation of institutional domination). If a school is a factory, the dean is the sadistic assembly line supervisor with a whip. My friend’s story was not corroborated by any of his teammates or the coach. The burden of proof was increased exponentially — no one believed the legitimacy of his account. The aftermath resulted in a in-school suspension, feelings of powerlessness, domination, and tears. Epistemic violence left a lasting scar on his sense of being.
During my freshman and sophomore years of high school, there was a serial defecator rampaging throughout the school — they called him the “mad crapper”. Whether this was a single entity or a decentralized effort of vandalism, we will never know. Shitting all over the school, the Vandals who sacked Rome would be proud. In a horticulture class (fuckin’ horticulture, these rich white kids really had the freedom to learn about different shit) I made a flippant remark about knowing the “mad crapper”. During the next class these Federale-like assistant deans showed up at the classroom door like a scene from The Sopranos. My anxiety towards conflict with authoritarian figures started to kick-in. Sitting in this donkey-faced nigga’s office, facing his intense gaze, condensation on my forehead, I started to cowl in fear and his intimidation. Once he realized I didn’t know shit about the “mad crapper”, noticing my bloodshot eyes, this fucker unleashed his hard-nose-narcotics-division detective persona on me; accusing me of being high, interrogating me on whether or not I was bringing in weed into the school.
The historical baggage of ruling class epistemology towards the poor, the black, and the brown showed up that day. The dean could not understand my fear of him, he only saw a poor Boricua kid from Bridgeport as a source of drugs. Bridgeport is 20 minutes from Westport going south on I-95; New York rush hour is from 3:00 pm until 6:00 pm. An afterschool detention meant I would miss the bus back home. My poor mother would have to pick my ass up in a red hooptie and be stuck in traffic for an hour. If that ain’t terror and violence, I don’t know what is.
I was a tiguere when I first started middle school in Westport. Attempting to dissolve the loneliness, I assimilated into the dominant ruling class culture. I listened to white music, adopted white fashion, and tried to be white. I would come back home to Bridgeport, take off the mask and begin my other life. However, there were moments when I would forget to take off the mask. And in those moments, I would be ostracized. I was struggling with the constant juggling act of switching identities depending on the environment.
How did we cope with our existence in Westport — by being fools.
Identity serves as a trap to differentiate from others and oppress ourselves. Identity becomes a methodology of categorization which ultimately only serves the neoliberal order. Collapsing groups of individuals into a “shared identity” based on “shared traits” in order to classify, categorize, and stratify. I call this the great categorization. Individuals willingly allowing themselves to be stratified into distinct categorizations which in turn allow them to be exploited and oppressed as their chosen identity. Even the act of perpetuating these chosen identities is an act of self-inflicted violence. The consumption and possession of products solely as an accumulation of things that differentiate — all of which become identity markers, fall into the trap of oppression through identity, thus perpetuating categorization and identity as oppression.
Power, domination, and oppression flow through identity. And the agony that festers within each historically oppressed group is the agony of giving up power. It’s not enough to escape oppression, some of us want to become oppressors ourselves. In his book The Perfect Crime, Jean Baudrillard writes:
“We move into a situation of the celebration of one’s deficit, one’s misfortune, one’s personal insignificance…”
It seems there is a power in the identity of victimization. Let’s cancel the motherfuckin’ world why don’t we? Shit, I had a strong female devalue my experiences with rape and the accompanying shame on the sole basis of my identity as a “man”.
Those who self-identify as Latinx or a ethno-political group like Black Marxists can only exist if binaries of oppression continue to exist. They serve as the opposite pole that completes the binary structure. There is a power in their victimization. If they can only exist within this binary then they will fight tooth and nail to maintain their alternative identities which, in turn, will continue the propagation of the current system. These socio-political identities become political economy itself. Michel Foucault said: “My point is not that everything is bad, but that everything is dangerous…If everything is dangerous, then we always have something to do. So my position leads not to apathy but to a hyper- and pessimistic activism.”
The Mirror People
Mirror people subsume and reflect the identity that is in front of them. I know a few mirror people. As a matter of fact, I have been a mirror person at various points of my life.
As a mirror person, expressions of identity oppression plagued my relationships. Many men, adopting and reflecting the identity of masculinity become oppressors in their romantic relationships. Many men succumb to the pre-determined identity role of the dominator or the stoic-masculine man, especially men in the hood. A code of traditional masculine behavior and a perpetuation of patriarchal domination over female partners is reproduced over and over again as a cultural and social function. Surprisingly, women — especially some single mothers can adopt the identity of a patriarchal dominator in their household. In addition, the commodification of sex and the reversal of power dynamics of women over men has broadened the spectrum of oppressors. It is now that we are all oppressing each other, exploiting pain over the opposite gender as conquests of triumph. It is an eternal feedback loop of hurt people, hurting people, however with an added deadly twist of hyper-capitalist commodification.
Another egregious example was my mirroring the obscene identity of a colonizer and American citizen during my times in Puerto Rico. In my childhood, I spent every summer living with my family in the poor countryside of Puerto Rico. A superiority complex re-wired my brain whenever I was in Puerto Rico. I did some fucked up shit — bringing a Puerto Rican flag to the local baseball field, throwing it on the floor in front of a whole park full of locals and then running it over with my bike.
Mirror people exist all around me. A few of them I know quite intimately. One of them is subsumed by the ideology of Black Excellence and Black Capitalism. They are in shackles to their identity. In debt to buy a luxury vehicle with a big engine, dreams of a lavish and luxurious lifestyle filling their head, and talks of their favorite supercar for every day of the week. White cultural hegemony is emulated by the black bourgeoisie then emulated by the lower classes in a hierarchy of emulation — perpetuating systems of oppression. Straining the mind and crushing the soul — the indoctrination in and the chase of the American Cash Money Millionaire Dream is destroying many poor people of color.
Another mirror person I know is more a hollow shell of a human. This person has what seems to be an anxiety that is tied to the construction of multiple fractured identities. A Bronx Nuyorican mother married to a well-off white man who then adopts the cultural hegemonic perception of success — this person has discarded any sense of Puertoricanness for one that is constructed to mimic an upper middle class Italian. My hollow friend and his hollow girlfriend have a relationship that is based on emptiness. Frequent discussions of what restaurant has the best food, the proper way to hold a wine glass, and the proper way to drink wine fill our ears whenever we are together. Fully embracing ruling class culinary culture — they take great pride in recommending restaurants.
The Unique Individual
Fueled by my experiences growing up in Bridgeport and schooling in Westport, I unknowingly began to become radicalized. In my 20’s I read Marxist texts, mostly out of a desire to be different in an academic program full of Freedmanites and Hayakans, but also a materialist analysis felt rather poignant considering my lived experiences up until that point. The political philosophy which has engulfed my 30’s has drew me away from Marx leading me to the post-left/post-Anarchism/post-structuralist realm of philosophical discourse. Regardless of where I stand in terms of political philosophy, I know these white-liberals (including those from Westport) and institutionalized people of color look down on my thoughts and sayings with a sense of disdain and bewilderment, but with that I am always reminded of a quote from Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Mask:
“When a black man speaks of Marx, the first reaction is the following: We educated you and now you are turning against your benefactors. Ungrateful wretched! You’ll always disappoint”
To paraphrase Fanon once more, there is nothing more sensational than a hood-ass Boricua or Moreno from the projects speaking correctly. We are ridiculed both by our homies and oppressors. For appropriating the white cultural hegemony. And for attempting to destroy it. And with this I say we destroy our identities as they are also forms of oppression.
I refuse to assimilate into any predetermined identity or role. I embrace the ideas of and implement subversion, insurgency, subterfuge, creation, sabotage, and criminality into my everyday existence. While I am a hood-ass Boricua from the projects (as a function of circumstance), that is not the entirety of my being. My being is at peace when it is subversive of oppressive socially constructed systems of identity, ethics, morals, culture, and codes of behavior. I have feelings of liberation when I curse inside of a church, when I behave in brash ways that are counter to social norms, or when I steal groceries from the grocery store. My individual experience does not have to be in a prison shackled by predetermined constructs of identity. To continue to quote from Fanon’s Black Skin, White Mask: “The real leap consists in introducing invention into existence…I am endlessly creating myself”.